Revised at 5:27 p.m., Friday
Danbury – Concerned about a plan to transfer women out of a Danbury prison to a prison in Alabama, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Friday called for the federal Bureau of Prisons to suspend the move until they get answers to questions.
They sent a letter signed by 11 senators to the bureau director questioning plans to transfer all 1,126 female inmates out of the all-female facility to a new prison in Aliceville, Ala., and facilities in other states.
The gradual move, scheduled to start this month, is part of the bureau’s plan to convert the prison back into a male prison starting in December. The move is necessary because of an increased need for male bed space, prisons bureau spokesman Chris Burke said.
But Murphy said Friday he doesn’t understand why the bureau targeted women in Danbury to alleviate male overcrowding. He said the move would be damaging to the women who have children in the Northeast.
“I think you are effectively cutting off communication between these women and their families by moving them to rural Alabama,” Murphy said.
“Certainly, these women did something wrong, but their children didn’t. It shouldn’t be the policy of the Board of Prisons to cut off communication between a 7-year-old and her mother, regardless of what her mother did wrong,” he said.
The letter points out that Danbury is located only 60 miles from Hartford, 70 miles from New York City and 150 miles from Boston; and that it is accessible by public transportation, train and car.
“In contrast, Aliceville is over 1,000 miles away from each of these cities. It has no airport, train or other forms of long-distance public transportation. Cab rides from airports, as well as the need for overnight housing and the extensive travel time required to get to Aliceville, make visits impossible for many families,” the letter said.
Murphy said about one-third of the women in Danbury are from the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic region. About half the inmates there are in immigration custody, he said. He didn’t have specifics for Danbury, but the National Women’s Law Center estimates that more than half of female inmates in the United States have children under the age of 18.
Murphy questioned the rush to transfer the women.
“There’s no hurry. Aliceville is empty. I don’t know what the motivation is behind this move. They’ve got an empty prison and they are trying to find a way to fill it,” Murphy said.
Burke, spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, declined to comment Friday, saying he had not seen the letter yet.
The letter asks several questions about the planned move, including why the Danbury prison was targeted for conversion, what percentage of female inmates have children and what steps the Bureau of Prisons is taking to ensure that women transferred to Alabama continue to have contact with their families and are prepared for reentry.
Danbury, the only federal prison in Connecticut, opened in 1940 as a minimum-security prison for men and was converted to a prison for women in 1994.